The Expert Parent on postpartum depression

Pregnancy and childbirth can leave a woman's hormones in flux.
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Beyond the "baby blues"

Q: The news about the Texas mother who killed her five children and is said to have been suffering from postpartum depression is very disturbing. I'm about to have my first baby and I can't imagine such a thing. What is postpartum depression and how likely am I to suffer from it?

A: This recent tragedy seems to involve a very severe--and rare--case of postpartum depression (PPD). Although 50 to 75 percent of new moms have some feelings of melancholy in the first weeks after birth (often called the "baby blues"), only about one in 10 new moms experience real postpartum depression or anxiety. The difference: PPD lasts longer than the baby blues, is more intense and often requires counseling or treatment. The most severe form of PPD--what experts believe the woman in Texas was suffering from--is called postpartum psychosis.

PPD may occur within the first weeks or up to a year following childbirth. The symptoms include fatigue, helplessness, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbances, fear of losing control, feeling overwhelmed, lack of interest in the baby, and even fears of harming the baby and/or yourself.

PPD is often triggered by hormonal changes after birth. Women who have a personal or family history of depression may be more at risk.

The best way to prevent postpartum depression from getting out of control is to be aware and educated about the symptoms and to seek treatment. Treatment options can include therapy, medication, family education and support groups. The good news: Most symptoms are temporary and treatable.

If you do suffer from PPD you won't be alone. Actress Jerry Hall battled it after the birth of her last baby and model Rachel Hunter had it with her first. Princess Diana suffered from PPD as did singer Marie Osmond, who wrote a book detailing how she coped with her depression.

But remember: Not all post-baby blues are PPD. Pregnancy and childbirth result in a wide range of emotions and leave your hormones in flux. Along with the excitement and joy come normal feelings of anxiety and worry. But if you begin to experience any of the symptoms of PPD, talk to your doctor right away. The prognosis is excellent if treated early.

Continued on page 2:  The Experts


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